Thursday, December 21, 2006

Photography in the News

There was a nice article in this morning's Washington Post about a retired Department of Interior employee who has photographed the national Christmas tree every year since 1963 (he's in his 80s now) and is the "unofficial historian" of the tree. He does slideshow lectures at retirement homes and such about the tree. He's gone from stills to video over the years to document the tree. It's good to have a personal project.

The New York times did a review of a show of the work of the "Mexican Weegee," Enriquez Metinides (I hope I remembered that correctly.) I was not familiar with him before this morning, but I am always glad to be able to bring some cultural diversity to the classroom. Last spring, it was the work of an African portrait photographer whose work had been discovered.

As I prepare my materials for next semester's Photo 10 class, I look for photographers to add to the collection of artists from which my students will get two about which to write. For the first assignment, I randomly hand out cards which have the name of a photographer and one image by him or her and the student needs to turn in a 2 page report about the photographer the next week. For the second assignment, the students get to look at the cards and pick out an image they like (or, if they are sophisticated enough, they'll pick out one by the name of a photographer they recognize) and turn in a second report. Most students find it a good learning exercise and it is a not too painful way of becoming more visually literate.

I also make my students turn in a gallery or other show review for the last project of the semester. I've had them attend one-person presentations sponsored by APA or concentrate on one photographer or image in a show. Some of them have actually come away realizing how political photography can be and others never get a clue. One of the disappointments about teaching is that students sometimes just can't follow directions, no matter how clear you work to make them or how often you repeat them. I had one student who went up to the Getty for the Weegee show, decided she didn't like it, and wrote about some paintings instead. Nice piece about the paintings, but I wasn't teaching drawing.

There is sometimes surprise about having to write in a photography class, but I explain to the students that they will have to write no matter what they do, and, if they want to be photographers, they will have to learn to write captions, letters, proposals, etc. They need to get over whatever fears they have about putting things into words.

We lose our darkroom next month, prior to the start of the spring semester. I think it is a real shame, especially since students still want to take photography to learn how to process and print. We are going digital because the department is in Media Arts and the department head (a print journalist, not a photographer) believes that film is dead in the newsworld. He may be right, but there are things that can be taught so much better with analog equipment at a much more reasonable cost than in digital--at least right now. Unfortunately, when construction is complete on the campus, there will not be a replacement darkroom. As one of the art instructors here said to me "just because we have photography, we didn't stop teaching drawing or painting." I've read that a number of schools which made early decisions to go totally digital are desperately attempting to get funding to bring back film--and failing. I did a tour of Santa Monica College's excellent facilities and they have no intention of eliminating film. It also has excellent digital facilities. Good decision on the part of the department chair. I've already told a couple of potential students that they should look to Santa Monica if they want to experience the darkroom


Kathy said...

Yeah, Photoshop is not the same thing as having a dark room.

dd-b said...

I can easily see that abandoning the darkroom so quickly is, at best, an aggressive strategy in educational institutions. And I can see how it will disrupt the established curriculum.

On the other hand, I can't find professionals still using 35mm film except for those near the end of their careers who don't want to move. Anybody new coming out has to know how to work with digital.

And it seems *to me* (not a photography teacher) that digital has really tremendous advantages for teaching -- mostly based around the shorter feedback cycle.

I don't particularly propose to try to re-argue the whole thing here, beyond this; but would you mind mentioning the specific things you find easier to teach in a darkroom? I'd like to know that, and it's probably short.

Photo Lawyer said...

I agree that most pro photographers have gone digital for at least some of their work and many for all of their work. I haven't shot much film since I got my digital camera, except for the work I did in connection with the classes I was teaching. My big concern is the expense. For a couple of hundred dollars, I can get a kid in the darkroom and he or she will be able to work with different focal lengths, aperatures, film and shutter speeds, paper grades, filtration, the inverse square law, and understand all that it means. To do it in digital requires an investment of several thousand dollars in cameras, lenses,computers, software, and printers. I teach at a community college which is not going out and buying cameras the kids can use and is expecting them to have access to computers and printers of their own. We had a darkroom and the lab fee was $15 a semester. It's a cost thing, plus there's that very tactile thing of processing film and making a print. Many of the potential students I've talked to really want that experience and they can't get it at my school anymore.